A not on a Friday #FOIFriday.
This week looks at several Freedom of Information requests that use the Act to follow upon policy and new legislation to see how things are working – are measures to stop puppy farming leading to more investigations and convictions, do clean air zones reduce polluting vehicles, and how do schools keep pupils fed?
Council budgets are under pressure – they have been for years, due to central government funding not keeping up with rising prices, then the cost of living crisis makes things worse and councils are likely struggling with affording vital services.
Foster care agencies are charging councils “increasingly scandalous” prices, Redbridge council’s corporate director of people Adrian Loades told a scrutiny meeting. The discussion followed figures obtained through the Freedom of Information Act last year that showed Redbridge Council was being charged up to £9,980 a week for every child in care.
The number of local children in care is on the up, rising from 176 last April to 226 at the start of this year, according to the Ilford Recorder.
Councils are already warning the soaring cost of food will pile pressure on school meal budgets. so while plans to expand free school meal provision in Wales is likely to be welcomed by parents, there are already concerns about funding, how far budgets will stretch, and how kitchens will cope with this expansion and more children becoming eligible for free school meals as struggling families need support.
Research by WalesOnline using FOI requests found variation in the cost of meals across Wales – from £2.10 to £2.60 for primary schools, while secondary prices range by 70p from to £2.35 to £3.05. Prices have been fixed for several years in a number of councils, and several services are run on a not for profit basis, with some councils exploring alternative products, suppliers and menus to keep costs down.
Roast dinners, chips and pizza are popular lunch options according to responses.
Hospitality and retail were hard hit by pandemic closures, but also affected were students who rely on those sectors for part-time work to support the cost of studying.
The number of students asking for emergency cash nearly tripled between 2018-19 and 2020-21 at 95 UK universities, BBC News Freedom of Information requests have revealed. The amount distributed went from £45.9 million in 2018-19 to £61.2 million in 2019-20, rising to £121.2 million in 2020-21.
Students have told BBC News they could not afford rent after bar and retail work dried up during the pandemic.
FOI can be a useful way of seeing what impact changes in legislation are having. Wales introduced new rules last year making it illegal for a commercial seller to sell a puppy or kitten they have not bred themselves at their own premises and they must ensure the mother is present.
A Freedom of Information request found Ceredigion had the highest number of enquiries from concerned members of the public about puppy farming at 149 in 2020 while the following year it had soared to 221, the South Wales Guardian reports. Carmarthenshire also had the highest number of investigations with 58 in 2020 and 72 in 2021 while the number of criminal prosecutions topped the national list with two prosecutions carried out last year.
Councils that operate low emission or clean air zone are ending up having to charge their own non-compliant vehicles for entering these zones (which seems a little inefficient).
Birmingham Council has charged itself £77,768 in fees and fines due to non-compliant council vehicles entering the city’s Clean Air Zone (CAZ) since the zone became operational in June 2021, according to CarWow.
Not so clean air
This is a similar one to using FOI to access food hygiene reports to find out more details about why business have been given a certain rating. Instead this uses FOI to get more background on investigations into issues relating to licensing.
Complainants say that smells from a nail bar leak into their bedrooms and living room, and environmental health officers have visited their homes for assessment. One report, released to residents under the Freedom of Information Act, showed officials describing feeling “extremely nauseous” and “dizzy” from the fumes during a site visit, according to the Islington Tribune.
Islington Council must now decide whether to renew the special treatment licence for London Grace in Camden Passage. The company, which has 10 branches across London and its own brand of nail polish, says it has won all previous appeals and taken action requested by officials.